Bloody Well Write

March 10, 2009

Avert the apostrophe catastrophe

Filed under: AP Stylebook,grammar,Jajo,punctuation — bloodywellwrite @ 6:47 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

That tiny, seemingly innocuous punctuation mark: The apostrophe is the bane of so many writers’ existence. The rules on its correct use tend to flip-flop depending on which style guide is followed or which side of the bed the writer rolled out of that morning. Of course, all things being equal (!) and my my-way-or-the-highway logic, I suggest following the AP Stylebook on this — and nearly every other — punctuation snafu.

Add an ‘s to form the possessive of most singular and proper nouns, even when they end in a z or an x:

• Bear’s honey
• Jazz’s impact
• Max’s dinner
• Substance’s properties
• Trance’s hold

Exceptions occur when doing so would result in a difficult-to-pronounce s or z sound:

• Xerxes’ statue
• Moses’ journey
• For conscience’ sake (no ending s since the following word starts with an s)
• For appearance’ sake (no ending s since the following word starts with an s)

To form plurals into the possessive case, add ’s to words that do not end in an s and a lone apostrophe to those that do:

Women’s rights
• Data’s fallibility
• Spectators’ applause
• Witnesses’ testimony

To show joint possession, add ’s to the last member of the compound group; to show separate possession, add ’s to each member:

• Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure really happened, dude.
• Bill’s and Ted’s excellent adventures were astoundingly similar. Gnarly.

To show one or more deleted letters or numbers, add an apostrophe: It’s (It is), you’re (you are), they’re (they are), ’tis the season (it is the season), ne’er-do-well (never-do-well), mac ’n’ cheese (yummy), summer of ’67 (1967), the roaring ’20s (1920s). Please use with caution, as puttin’ a lot of ’em in yo’ writin’ can make y’ur writin’ seem like y’ur 8 years ol’, from the back country or from the ’hood (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you get my drift).

To show the plural of a single letter, use an apostrophe: Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Root for the Oakland A’s.

For you detail-crazy font-watchers, pay attention to the shape of the mark itself. There’s a difference between a curly apostrophe () and a straight one (). Although the vast majority of folks wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, the curly (aka “smart”) apostrophe and quotation marks should be reserved for words and quotations: He murmured, “Let’s get some tacos.” Use the straight (aka “dumb”) apostrophe and quotation marks strictly for measurements and dimensions: He’s 6′ 2″.

Caveat lector: See those straight marks? No? In the height of the guy above: He’s 6′ 2″. The foot and inch marks may or may not have shown up correctly on your computer as straight marks. The funny thing is that I wrote this entire article, blabbing about smart quotes, and didn’t realize I had an issue until I was previewing the document before hitting the Publish button. On my screen, none of the so-called smart quotes are true smart quotes; they are not curly, but simply angled. Well, that is a big problem with Internet writing. I asked one of the IT guys I work with about it, and he said that to get straight quotes consistently in an Internet-based document, I would have to jump through all sorts of computer hoops. Something about coding. And coding, my friends, is Greek to me. So — use your imagination. Those suckers are meant to be straight marks, vertical through and through.

Better yet, use those straight marks only in ultratechnical data. Otherwise, the AP Stylebook suggests writing out the dimensions: He is 6 feet 2 inches tall.

Unless you happen to have a crafty IT guy/gal at the ready, the easiest way to have smart quotes flow seamlessly into your copy is to go to the Preferences menu (AutoCorrect) of your word processing or design application and activate the “smart quotation marks” feature; they will be automatically substituted in newly typed text. Triple-check your work if you import text or copy and paste from somewhere else, though, because you may have to replace the dumb quotes manually.

If your smart quotes are not activated, you can find them another way if you snoop around your computer just a bit:

If you’re on a Mac, they are under Insert, Symbol …; just hunt, click, insert and — PRESTO! — straight mark, just as requested.
If you’re on a PC, go buy a Mac. Kidding.* (Since I’m a Mac gal, I’m not sure how to manually change straight quotes to curly on a PC — hey, I don’t lie.) Check your manual, or use the above-mentioned smart quotes feature.

OK, thats it for today. Hope you enjoyed this little romp through the apostrophes.

Happy trails!


*Only kind of.

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